A passion for policy

Vital Signs » Spring 2014

Fourth-year student John Corker’s passion for health care policy and medical journalism wins national accolades

Alarmed about the number of uninsured Americans—48.6 million—John Corker began studying health policy as an extracurricular passion in 2005 as an undergraduate at the University of Notre Dame, a passion that he has continued to cultivate as a medical student at the Boonshoft School of Medicine.

That passion has led to national recognition for Corker, with a fellowship with the American Medical Association (AMA) and a Physician of Tomorrow Award for Medical Journalism from the AMA Foundation.

As he began his third year of medical school, he wasn’t sure he wanted to incorporate his interest in health policy into his medical career. So he applied for the Government Relations Advocacy Fellowship with the AMA to find out.

“What better way to make an informed decision than to live and work in our nation’s capital for a year?” said Corker, who began his fellowship in Washington, D.C., in July 2013, taking a year off from medical school. “It is the perfect opportunity to explore the world of health policy from an insider’s perspective.”

Faculty members at the medical school say Corker is a perfect fit for the AMA A passion for policy fellowship. Since beginning medical school, Corker has shared the knowledge he has learned about health policy with other students through his roles as a host and director at Radio Rounds, the nation’s only medical talk show created and hosted entirely by medical students, and as the health care correspondent for the NextGen Journal, an online publication run by a nationwide team of college and graduate students.

His work also has been published in USA Today and Primary Care Progress . He was interviewed by Bloomberg News for a feature article on medical student debt and was asked to speak on behalf of the AMA on the same issue for a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau field hearing in Miami, Florida.

In 2011, he was awarded a Betty Ford Foundation fellowship to study addiction medicine in California. He brought back what he learned and shared it by teaching a series of small group sessions to first-year medical students as part of an ethics class.

In addition, Corker has been the vice chair of the WSU student chapter of the AMA. He also has held leadership roles in the school’s Christian Medical Association and Catholic Medical Student Association.

“I observed a continuous and sincere yearning to discover the truth in ethical and social questions, one which will benefit his patients immensely,” said Ashley Fernandes, M.D., Ph.D., FAAP, associate professor in the Departments of Community Health and Pediatrics at the medical school. “Society needs physicians who will bring competence to the science of medicine and nobility and virtue to the art of medicine. John will bring both.”

Fernandes recalled how Corker excelled in the medical ethics course he directs. He described Corker as a student who was not afraid to confront his own doubts and ask questions of himself and others.

In his role with the AMA in Washington, D.C., Corker analyzed various issues, from health care delivery reform to physician payment reform to funding for graduate medical education.

He also works to keep medical students informed. He sent a weekly email with health care policy updates to medical students, residents, and young physician subscribers. He posted regular updates to the AMA website and tweeted information to AMA followers. He is responsible for working with the AMA’s Medical Student Section Governing Council to assist students in writing and giving testimony for their own policy resolutions.

In addition, Corker travels around the United States to meet with medical students. At these meetings, he encourages advocacy and leadership in the students’ home communities. As legislation is discussed, he is in touch with his national network through a series of educational webinars, letter-writing campaigns, and phone-a-thons.

“As I’ve studied health policy, I’ve come to have a greater appreciation for the power of policy to impact the lives of patients on a far greater scale than ever would be possible in a single practice or hospital setting,” said Corker, who will graduate this year. “Policy decisions are being made every day that will directly affect my and my colleagues’ future practices.”

He worked with state legislatures to ensure the highest level of patient safety and quality care in under - staffed emergency rooms. He also worked with Congress to ensure that international medical graduates who want to practice in high-need primary care specialties are not squeezed out of the U.S. physician workforce.

He organized a nationwide SaveGME campaign ( SaveGME.org ) to educate both the public and Congress about protecting federal funding for graduate medical education. In addition, he worked closely with the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to bring attention to the growing medical student debt crisis and its impact on public health, representing the AMA as a panelist at a CFPB National Field Hearing on Student Debt.

He encourages physicians-in- training to not only educate themselves about health policy but also to actively engage in its formation in an effort to create the best possible health care system for patients and their doctors.

The number of bills that have been unsuccessfully presented to Congress to address the ever-growing national shortage of physicians has amazed him. “Politics are, without a doubt, the biggest obstacle to creating good policy,” said Corker, who plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine while continuing to seek leadership roles in the AMA, state, and county medical societies, as well as in public policy.

His interest in medicine began when he was an undergraduate student at the University of Notre Dame. He was a biomolecular and chemical engineering major who hoped to contribute to patients’ well-being through the development of state-of- the-art technological advancements.

After one year, he realized that the engineering experience was not what he had imagined. So, he switched his major to biological sciences and began volunteering at a local hospital.

“Those initial experiences working with doctors, nurses, and patients at the hospital got me hooked,” said Corker, who learned about the plight of the uninsured during this time. He graduated in 2007 with a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences. “Since then, and especially since enrolling in medical school, I have been reaffirmed every day in my decision to pursue medicine.”

In August, Corker was recognized for his journalism as one of two recipients nationwide to receive the AMA Foundation’s Johnson F. Hammond, M.D., Physicians of Tomorrow Award for Medical Journalism.

“While I look forward to a long clinical career caring for patients in the emergency room, I also hope to apply my lifelong passions for discovery, writing, and teaching on a broader scale as a medical journalist,” Corker said. VS

John Corker’s columns for the NextGen Journal are posted online, along with blogs from several other current students, at medicine.wright.edu/student-life/blog.

Last edited on 09/28/2016.